Today marks Super Bowl XLVI (46, for the non-Roman-numeral-inclined), the de facto U.S. national holiday that celebrates far more than just the championship NFL game. As every poker fan knows, the poker equivalent of this is each summer’s World Series of Poker Main Event, which incidentally has been running for almost as long! Many new fans to the game, however, aren’t aware that poker used to have a Super Bowl of its own: Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker.
The outspoken winner of the 1972 World Series of Poker Main Event, Amarillo Slim, saw that the professional poker players of his day were hungry for more high-limit tournament action. He created the Super Bowl of Poker partly as a response to this, but also as a means of promoting the game of poker itself. Only 30 players entered the first year, but that number soon skyrocketed, as more events were added in the coming years to make the Super Bowl of Poker a bona fida tournament series.
The Super Bowl of Poker ran for 13 years between 1979 and 1991 and took place in a number of different Nevada venues, including Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Laughlin. During that time, it rose to prominence as the second-most-important poker event of the calendar year; in effect the only $10,000 buy-in poker event besides the WSOP Main Event. The fact that it moved around multiple times, however, was one of the things that contributed to its instability and eventual demise.
Gabe Kaplan won the Super Bowl of Poker’s main event in 1980. The Welcome Back Kotter star actually did quite well at this tournament series throughout the eighties, making 4 final tables. Other big name winners included 3-time WSOP Main Event champion Stu Unger (he also won the SBOP main event 3 times!), as well as fellow Poker Hall of Famers T.J. Cloutier and Jack Keller.
During the rest of the year, we poker players stack our chips. Today, we dip our chips; but let us never forget the good old “chips off the old block” like Amarillo Slim Preston who have helped make poker the great national pastime it is today.